Dian's Column
Dian's Archive


Can't understand your credit card agreements? You are not alone.

By Dian Vujovich

Things in the world of credit cards keep getting goofier and goofier. The latest tidbit? Research shows that the credit card agreement you’ve become a party to no matter whether you’ve read it or not, is written at a reading level most adults can’t understand. Seems the average American adult reads at a ninth-grade level and the agreements are written at 12th-grade level.

Worse yet, only one in five adults reads above a 12th-grade level. Or, four in five people read below it. This according to a recent study from Creditcard.com . And you wonder why people wind up in a financial pickle, crooks run amuck on Wall Street and folks get scammed?

“Credit card contracts and other such documents are written in dense prose for a reason: So that the customer will NOT be able to understand it, ” says Roy
Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, FL, “I may be cynical, but I don’t think their writing strategies are accidental…I think those writers know exactly what they are doing.”

While new disclosure requirements took effect last month requiring credit card issuers to provide one-page summary information to their users, that one-page summary isn’t the agreement—it’s simply a summary. That means, as always the devil is in the details and you’ll find the details in the long agreement.

Other goodies from Creditcard.com’s study include: The toughest credit card agreement is the one from GTE Federal Credit Union, it requires an 18.5 reading level. And, the wordiest agreement is for Master Card and Visa cars from Fifth Third Bancorp—they are written at the 14.5 grade level and contain nearly 20,800 words. BTW, the U.S. Constitution only has 4,018 words in it.

Read the entire story, which requires being able to read at a 14.3 level, at http://tinyurl.com/263pcfb or
http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-card-agreement-readability-1282.php?a_aid=9fc4cb60 .

To read more articles, please visit the column archive.

[ top ]